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First Responders First - Barriers to accessing mental health services



Unlike most medical diagnoses, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are more subjective and appear invisible and intangible. But like other medical disorders, mental health can affect all aspects of life and can worsen if poorly managed. The psychosocial well-being of healthcare workers can have a drastic effect on their ability to respond to crises and can also directly impact their ability to respond to client outcomes. Here are the common barriers to accessing mental health services and some suggestions to overcome them.

The most common barrier involves the stigma associated with seeking mental health services. Often, culture and community impact the perception of seeking mental health services as some cultures perceive it as a socially unacceptable topic. As a result, seeking mental health services often brings up difficult emotions like fear, shame, and guilt. Often, the fear of being judged can prevent individuals from seeking the help they need. Many healthcare workers have concerns that seeking mental health services could adversely affect their careers and lead to decreased confidence from superiors or teammates. This reluctance to seek support can lead to further isolation, thereby exacerbating mental health disorders. It’s important to recognize the impact of mental health issues and take the necessary steps to address them. Practice self-care and engage in healthy coping strategies to help prevent stress from mounting, potentially leading to more significant problems. Find and engage in support groups like the Frontline Nurses WikiWisdom Forum and Compassionate Listening Circles. Often, these support systems can help you normalize and recognize the need for mental health services and reduce the stigma around seeking help.

Other barriers include the lack of available and appropriate mental health services. There’s a shortage of mental health professionals in the US, and some nurses living in rural areas may find that there are few providers in their area. Alternatively, even if a mental health professional is nearby, there may not be the specific resource a nurse needs, like peer support groups. Also, some healthcare organizations may still concentrate on traditional in-person counseling services rather than expanding to include telehealth services which could be more effective for nurses who require more flexible support. Furthermore, mental health professionals may be unaware of available community resources and therefore unable to share these resources with those seeking treatment. Without access to and awareness of proper treatment options, those seeking mental health services may feel abandoned and cease treatment. However, with the growing emergence of telehealth, appointments can be conducted remotely, such as, from home, or another safe location, thereby expanding access to those seeking treatment. Also, information from reliable sources can provide a wealth of targeted resources. These include the National Alliance on Mental Illness who partnered with First Responders First to create a community-centered initiative called NAMI Frontline Wellness as a resource for frontline healthcare providers seeking mental health services.   

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